Articles, quizzes, and grammar tips for word-lovers everywhere

Pedal or peddle?

Bike

English spelling is full of apparent idiosyncrasies – native speakers and learners alike grapple with doubling consonants, how to form plurals, ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’’, and have to dodge umpteen other potential pitfalls. Another rich source of mistakes is the fact that English contains pairs of similar-sounding words (homophones). These words have different […]

Faceoff: ‘he’, ‘he or she’, ‘he/she’, ‘s/he’ versus ‘they’

He, she, or they?

I enjoy reading your comments on Oxford’s blog posts: they provide an invaluable insight into your language concerns, likes, and dislikes. Your remarks strengthen my awareness that we have a sophisticated and grammatically knowledgeable audience: this keeps me on my toes, to say the least. Of course, I always aim to stay within the bounds […]

Cat lying down large

Lie or lay? Laying down the law on some puzzling verbs

Can you declare, hand on heart, that you always use the verbs lie and lay correctly? You don’t say? Does that go for all the tenses and forms of those verbs? There’s an abundance of evidence in every type of writing, from journalism to legal reports, that many English speakers are all at sea when […]

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prepositions

Grammar myths #1: is it wrong to end a sentence with a preposition?

Stranded prepositions are nothing to fret about There are numerous myths relating to grammatical dos and don’ts, many of which were drummed into us at school. The one that stubbornly refuses to budge from my mind is the diktat ‘never begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and or but’. And why not, pray?* […]

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Performance-wise, adverbs are alive and kicking!

Adverbs

Thankfully, most of us negotiate post-educational life very well without having to do much (or any) conscious grammatical analysis. My hunch is that if you put twenty people into a room and asked them to say what an adverb is, they might look rather uncomfortable or even try to flee. If you applied some metaphorical […]

Hyphens in the headlines

Man eating chicken

Who’d have thunk it? The humble hyphen, the shorter sibling of the dash, is in the media spotlight, and for once it has nothing to do with dictionaries, either. The celebrity gossip websites have been buzzing with news of Lauren Pierce Bush, niece of former US President George W. Bush. Lauren’s marriage to David Lauren […]

principal

Principle or principal?

It’s very easy to confuse these two words. Although they sound the same when they’re spoken, their meanings are quite different. Here are two sentences in which the wrong choice has been made: X The principle aim of the initiative is to make art accessible to everyone. X There are too many designers who do […]

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Redundant expressions

Redundant expressions

Bad habits are hard to break A bad practice in writing (and speaking) is redundancy. Anyone who has sat through a speech that goes round and round and uses the same few words over and over knows what I mean. We may sometimes do this deliberately, for stylistic reasons, or in order to raise the […]

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